Through all of this, the seeds had no humidity control, no real protection from bugs, or mice, or even nanites, and some dated back as far as 2008! Since temperature fluctuations and moisture content are critical parameters in how long seeds remain viable, we need a test to decide which seeds to keep and which to toss in the compost. Yay, an excuse to do an experiment!
|Quite a collection we've got here! OK, seeds, which of you is going to grow when we plant you in the ground?|
|We took ten seeds from each packet (unless there were fewer than ten left). We were going to put them in a paper towel, but we (Jake) couldn't find any around the house. How about this miniature roll of paper towels from the bathroom?|
|Some of the seeds thought they were partying on spring break.|
|The good ones we planted in dirt to see how they'd do. (After one day in dirt, most look healthy!)|
|...and here's the data! An Excel file with numbers for each variety can be downloaded here, but the graphs show the different 'classes' of veggies grouped together. If there was more than one variety, the bar represents the average (generally different varieties of the same group performed similarly, the exceptions being beans and radishes). A couple of notes: the pumpkins were from 2008, and there were only nine seeds in the packet. One of the carrot seed packets was from 1997! The swiss chard was so unruly that it was impossible to tell which plants came from which seeds. We tested 30 seeds and ended up with 45 sprouts that readily detached from the seed, so we just assumed all of them worked (it seemed fair).
Some of the variation here could be due to differing moisture levels--some of the paper was fairly dry when we opened it up, and those seeds appeared less viable (the driest ones were the carrots, lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes). It's also possible that some of the seeds needed more time to germinate, but since we could see cucumber roots after only 24 hours, we didn't want to let it go too long. Having an easier way to check on the seeds after a certain amount of time would have been helpful.
How do you test your seeds for viability? If you save your seeds, how do you make sure they remain viable through the winter? Let us know in the comments section below!